Which Flash Memory Size?

A common discussion topic on photography forums is “should I buy two 4gb flash cards, or one 8gb card?”  Or some variation thereof..

I just placed an order for flash memory so I thought I’d share my views on this and because all types of memory is available cheaper than ever before I’ll be visiting each type of storage I use over the next week or so.

The question:  “Is to buy two or more flash cards to equal a certain amount of storage, or just one large one to equal the same amount?”

My answer:  Generally, I’m of the opinion you’re better off buying the largest size flash card that provides the speed and reliability you want, at the most economical price per unit.

Why?  Price being constant per unit of memory, I’d much rather only have to deal with a single flash memory card than several.  I’ve been using flash memory for over nine years now since the Olympus Smart Media cards.  I’ve had exactly three flash memory cards fail.

1.  In 1998 a 16mb Smart Media card failed after going through the washing machine.  These were very flimsy cards and not waterproof.

2.  In 2005 a 4g Lexar Pro CF card failed, but was recoverable, when used in my Canon 1dMarkII.  Lexar later admitted the fault was in their firmware, unique to the Canon 1d series DSLR’s, and recalled all the cards replacing them.

3.  Three months ago a 4g A-Data SD card came unglued!  Yes, the two plastic halves of the shell came apart causing the read/write nub to get lost.  The card can still be read from, but I can’t write to it without jury rigging the write protect nub in some way.

That’s it.  And I’ve purchased and used the heck out of maybe 150-200 flash memory cards.  I still have several Smart Media cards in working order from 1998, I even used one in an obscure picture frame LCD I purchased for my grandmother and after a year of her watching my slide show in her 7inch LCD.. it’s still working fine.  I’ve given away to family members countless flash devices and they’re still using them, or have passed them on to others.

In my humble opinion, I’ve MUCH more likely to lose a loose flash memory card, than to have one fail.  I might not even lose it, but it could go through the wash as countless others have after I’ve stuck them in shirt of pants pockets.. or get lost between the seats of my car, or under the foam of my case, reappearing months later in some mysterious way.  Thank you very much, but I’ll take the largest card I can economically buy in the hope it will be able to stay in my camera and not get lost.


What kind and size of flash media cards do I use?

I use the largest, fastest, most reliable, and most economical flash memory cards available.   They are in order of cameras and devices:

Canon 1dsMarkII:  Sandisk Ultra III 16gb CF card, and Sandisk Ultra II 16gb SDHC card.  I use Sandisk exclusively in my professional cameras.  I find them, through hard lessons, the most reliable cards available.  They might not always be the fastest or cheapest or largest at any given point in time, but if not today they will be tomorrow.  With 32gb of storage in my 1dsMarkII I can capture approximately 1800 RAW files.  This is more than enough for even the largest wedding, fashion shoot, day out shooting wildlife, or anything else I do.  And yes, I carry two more sets in a small hard case chained to my belt loop, and carried inside my pocket.  The hard case IS washing machine proof.. :)

Canon 1dMarkIIn:  Same as above.

Canon XT350 Rebel:  Sandisk 8gb Ultra II CF card.  I’ll often use the XT350 in the portrait booth during a wedding to capture guest portraits.  I’ve never come close to filling up even a single 8gb card, 450 guest portraits is my record.

Canon 5d:  Sandisk 8gb Ultra II CF card.  I’ve never filled one on this camera.  Let’s face it, unless it’s a 1d series camera I won’t be shooting it enough in a single day/outing to fill up a 8gb CF card.  If  shooting that much I’ll use a 1d series DSLR.

Canon G9:  Transcent 8gb SDHC card.  I’ve yet to fill up half of this card.  Speed isn’t an issue with this camera, and for casual travel stuff the best cards aren’t necessary.  I’ll get the cheapest per unit cards for point and shoot cameras and so far they’re doing fine.
Fuji F30d:  Olympus 1gb XD card.  I once filled up half of this card after a full three days of shooting in Singapore.

Palm TX PDA:  A-Data 4gb SDHC card.  No fast card needed here either, but i do appreciate the 4 gigabytes of storage space for television shows and movies.

Garmin Nuvi 350 GPS:  I use the best Sandisk cards of the size I need for the map sets I’m using.  I depend heavily on my GPS and it sits in the hot sun, gets stored in hot cars, and I need the very best cards to ensure reliability.  Also, when the maps run from the card and not internal memory the speed of the card becomes critical.  I use Sandisk Extreme III SD cards in my GPS.

My wife has her PDA, GPS, digital voice recorder, camera, and computer, and I equip her devices using the same criteria above.

I hope you’ve found this helpful.